Biplane fighter aces


Carlos Colom Moliner

– 13 September 1936

In July 1936, the Aeronáutica Naval - the Escuela de Aeronáutica and the aero naval Workshops were located on the quayside at Contradique, Barcelona. The regular officers of the Cuerpo General de la Armada were all in favour of the coup and for that reason they allowed the arrival at the base, by air, of general Manuel Goded Llopis, who had been posted there to command the rebel forces in Barcelona. This general, who was in Palma de Majorca, left the Mahón naval air station for Barcelona in a Savoia S-62 seaplane and took command of the headquarters of the 4a División Orgánica. Once he had left the naval air station, the junior officers posted there arrested their seniors and took control. It was then that the Escuadrilla Escuela seaplanes, the Savoia S-62s, Macchi M-18s and Dornier Wal operated in close support with the Aviación Militar Breguet XIXs, until the capitulation of Goded’s forces.
As for the Marina de Guerra air arm located at the Base Aeronaval at San Javier and also at the Mar Menor, in Murcia, there was an Escuadrilla de Combate y Acompañamiento equipped with Martinsyde F 4 Buzzard fighters. Although outdated, these aircraft - 20 of which had been supplied to Spain in the early 1920s - would be briefly used during the early days of the military uprising. This unit was led by oficial tercero Carlos Lázaro Casajust, who commanded auxiliares (NCOs) Javier Jover Rovira, Herminio Moro Álvarez and Manuel Mora Deutú. Additional fighter pilots, although serving within army Ni-H.52 escuadrillas, subsequently joined the naval air arm. They were auxiliares Luis Alonso Vega, Carlos Colom Moliner, Tomás Baquedano Moreno, Eduardo Guaza Marín and Antonio Blanch Latorre.

On 13 September 1936, a patrulla of Aeronáutica Naval Vickers Vildebeests arrived at Getafe from Los Alcázares to reinforce the surviving Breguet XIXs of Grupo No 31. Heading for the Talavera de la Reína front, and escorted by two Ni-H.52s flown by teniente Félix Urtubi Ercilla (a former Nationalist pilot) of the Grupo de Caza No 11 and auxiliary naval pilot Colom, the Vildebeests were intercepted at dawn by three CR.32s led by capitán Joaquín García Morato and including Sergente GianLino Baschirotto and Sergente Vincenzo Patriarca.
The bombers managed to escape but Baschirotto quickly shot down one of the Ni-H.52s. The Republican pilot, teniente Félix Urtubi Ercilla, crashed on the Nationalist side and his body was never recovered nor was the wreckage of his aircraft ever found. Urtubi Ercilla was posthumously promoted to capitán.
Patriarca, meanwhile, got involved in combat with a second Ni-H.52 with which he collided. The Republican pilot, Aeronáutica Naval pilot Moliner, was killed and the charred remains of his body were recovered and identified by his squadron mates. Patriarca, however, managed to parachute. As soon as he landed he was captured by Republican troops and was only saved from a summary execution by showing his American passport. He was later trailed and sentenced to death. Because of the uproar occasioned by the capture of an American citizen, the US State Department successfully applied pressure to the Republican government and Patriarca was released and sent back to the U.S. in November 1936.
Patriarca’s CR.32 was the only lost in combat during September-October 1936.
Legend soon had it that it was Félix Urtubi Ercilla who collided with the aircraft flown by Patriarca (perhaps due to his illustrious past). Following the release of a brief communique, government war correspondents asked for the name of the airman involved to be released so that ”all the Spanish people can engrave it on their hearts”.
The following day Republican newspapers named teniente Félix Urtubi Ercilla, and they attempted to give more details of the combat that had ended in his death. El Noroeste contained a reasonably accurate version of events:

“Five enemy aircraft - two tri-motors and three fighters - were sighted over the Navalmoral road, but the tri-motors quickly turned tail in the presence of a loyal fighter pilot, who opened intense machine gun fire. He hit one of the tri-motors and then, when the latter vanished, began a hair-raising pursuit in the clouds, trying to hunt down the three enemy fighters. The loyal fighter pilot hit another enemy aeroplane, which also escaped, but he then pounced on a third enemy aeroplane and almost broke it in two. It was a dreadful clash. The enemy pilot parachuted from his aircraft. Our fighter also crashed. Our brave pilot succumbed to his injuries. Teniente Félix Urtubi is the name of our hero.”
But the dead Republican pilot was not Félix Urtubi Ercilla. The remains were those of Aeronáutica Naval pilot Colom. This was made clear in the Madrid evening newspaper La Voz on 16 September. Under the heading ”Urtubi or Colom?” the paper reported:
“Today, we have been visited by two comrades from the Aeronáutica Naval who asked us to partially correct the information in the Madrid press on teniente Urtubi’s alleged death. The corpse of the airman recovered from the Toledo field is that of auxiliar naval Carlos Colom. The fact that Urtubi was also flying at the same time over the same spot and on the same mission created all the confusion.
Both airmen fought courageously, as we reported yesterday. It is thought that Carlos Colom succumbed when he attacked the enemy aeroplane with his aircraft. There is no news of Urtubi’s whereabouts. We hope that he will be found safe. Whatever happens, Félix Urtubi and Carlos Colom have written a new and heroic page in the feats of loyal aviators.”

At the time of his death, Colom had claimed 1 biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 13/09/36   1 CR.32 (a) Destroyed Ni-H.52   Toledo area  

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed.
(a) Claimed in a collision with Vincenzo Patriarca, who parachuted and was taken POW.

Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Crickets against Rats. Regia Aeronautica in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1937. Vol. 1 - Marek Sobski, 2014 Kagero, Lublin, ISBN 978-83-64596-16-2
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Fighter Pilots Of The Spanish Republic (Vol. 1) - Rafael A. Permuy López, Historica 36/39 no. 1, ISBN 84-87314-89-9
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Wings Over Spain - Emiliani Ghergo, 1997 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milano
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso and Ondrej Repka.

Last modified 10 March 2016